Book Club / And Every Character Leaves Behind Little Clouds of Dust

AsterixAsterix The Legionary
Written by René Goscinny
Art by Albert Uderzo

In life there is often an elemental choice between binary opposites. Male or Female? Cats or Dogs? Capitalism or Communism? Coke or Pepsi? Beatles or The Stones? Batman or Superman? 

I’m pretty confident saying that the first time in my life I encountered this was in making the choice between being into Tintin or being into Asterix. There can be no middle ground. One must make the choice and then live with the consequences. Even if the results won’t be seen until much later in life. 

Of course – I’ve always been a Tintin kinda guy. There’s just something about him that’s more expansive. More adventurous. Dare I say it? More American. Tintin understands that stories are about forward momentum. Characters are just a hook to hang things on. What you really want is exciting set pieces captured in photo realistic accuracy. 

Asterix? Well – that’s more an European kinda thing you know? It’s more of a provincial kinda thing. The comic book stuff is way more exaggerated and – well – comic booky. When you punch someone (“WHAM!” “BIFF!” “TCHAC!” etc) they go flying into the air and out of the frame with only little stars left where their body was. There’s jokes with language. Every character is a caricature of themselves. The story meanders with no real pressing desire to get to the end. And when it does get to the end there’s always a big feast and a joke about Whats-his-face doing some singing. I don’t know if this is a little wild off the mark but there’s something about Asterix books that always kinda reminded me a little of Carry On films. It’s about something comfortable and seeing all the familiar faces with lots of silly jokes poured over the top. Which of course is all fair enough if you like that type of thing. But I don’t know. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough? 

I’m not too sure what the high-water mark of the Asterix series is supposed to be (maybe someone else can tell me?) but I did a quick Google for “Best Asterix Book” and the first thing I clicked on said that Asterix The Legionary. I was pleasantly surprised by this. My grandfather had a copy of Asterix The Legionary in his house when I was growing up and I must have read it about five or six times (at least). 

Rereading it today to write this was actually a pretty fun experience. The big change in how I viewed it was being way more aware of how unapologetically horny Obelix is right at the start (is getting turned on by how a girl looks really “falling in love?” or should I not ask difficult questions?) and – oh – all the funny people from all the different countries which at the time I thought was really cool and interesting but reading it with 2022 eyes just makes me think that such stereotypical and insensitive depictions of all the various nationalities would definitely result in some form of cancellation (“We need to be made aware that stories have an impact in the real world.” etc). 

Although one joke that I definitely don’t think I quite appreciated at the time is when they all get severed “legionary rations” (“Corn, bacon and cheese, all cooked together to save time”) and everyone finds it almost inedible apart from the English guy (“I say, what?”) who declares it “Delicious! Really splendid, don’t you know!”). Lol. 

I hope I don’t get cancelled myself for saying this – but personally I do actually kinda enjoy stereotypical depictions of nationalities to be almost kinda… heartwarming? It’s that thing where you’re most rude to your friends and family because you all know it’s not coming from a place of hate but a place of affection. Like all of the depictions in Asterix feel very affectionate to me? But that’s just my point of view maybe. 

The other thing I realised reading it now is how much movement there is. Obviously that’s a bit of a funny thing to say about a comic that’s just a bunch of static images on a page but seriously – there’s movement everywhere you look. People nodding their heads. Running around. Throwing things. Getting whacked. Pretty much every frame has movement lines in it and every character leaves behind little clouds of dust. 

That all being said – I still think I made the right decision. Like Asterix is obviously a well made comic. Lots of attention to detail and drawn with a keen eye for character, framing, movement and all the rest. But I don’t know – maybe it’s all just too French for me? It’s all a bit like a delicious and rich and smelly cheese but in my heart of hearts I can’t help but prefer a nice solid chunk of cheddar – you know? 

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